Dear Cinema Lovers,
My hometown didn’t have a movie theatre. It had lots of blue-collar jobs, drug trafficking, and teenagers drinking under the bridge. But the town’s only theatre closed before I was born.
My first movie experiences were at the drive-in. That’s where I saw Star Wars for the first time when my older brothers were forced to take me, but after spilling an entire Fanta orange soda on myself and when neither Broseph wanted to bring me to the bathroom to clean me off, I cried myself to sleep in the hatchback of our Datsun B210, and I honestly don’t remember what happened after the “In a galaxy far, far away” scroll. The drive-in closed before Return of the Jedi was even released.
To get to the closest movie theatre, the Laurentian in Grenville, Quebec, I either ha d to beg an older brother to drive me (not bloody likely) or walk across the interprovincial Perley Bridge. Not an easy – but not unheard of – feat for a budding child cinephile. Being a middle-of-nowhere kid, video stores were my happy place. And we didn’t have franchises like Blockbuster. We had the depanneur where rickety carousels of B-movies and French-language films were the best we could hope for.
Years later, and quite by accident, I ended up working at an independent video store which was a cross between the snotty record store from High Fidelity, and the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Here I found my happy place, where I could bring home stacks of movies for free. Truffaut, Kurosawa, Wertmuller, Buster Keaton shorts, Criterion collections, Oscar winners, Razzie winners, among thousands of others, were at my 24 hour disposal. But better than that were the hours of random conversations I’d have with customers about important things like why full-screen sucks, or how you can’t watch Apocalypse Now without pairing it with Hearts of Darkness, or how Jeff Bridges is the world’s greatest actor, living or dead. Unlike movie theatres, in video stores, talking was encouraged.
This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the majesty of seeing a film on the big screen or understand why others feel it is the superior viewing option. I do. I empathize with local indie theatre owners and employees who already had a tough go before the pandemic. I understand why friends and fellow critics are struggling without the theatre experience. But I’d be lying if I pretended to be one of them.
That said, I will look forward to safely attending the movies when ~all this~ is over, but only after I’ve hugged my family and friends, held my new grandnephew, traveled further than 50km from my house, and eaten a mediocre meal at a fancy restaurant. Then and only then will I treat myself to the VIP experience at Lansdowne, alone and with a glass of wine and ludicrously expensive nachos.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Theatre: South Keys, Ottawa
Date: May, 1998
Thrown out for being wayyyy too high, which was pretty on brand for 1998 Di, who did her best Hunter S. Thompson impersonation by calling the justifiably frightened 15-year-old usher a “filthy swine bastard” on her way out the door
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Theatre: Laurentian Theatre, Grenville, PQ
Date: Dec., 1989
Thrown out of the Laurentian Theatre, for laughing too hard. And on cheap night too. The audacity.
Theatre: Laurentian Theatre, Grenville, PQ
Date: November, 1985
I saw this alone so often I’m surprised they didn’t call children’s aid. But seeing that my hometown at the time was considered the third largest drug trafficking center per capita in Canada, I’m guessing an unaccompanied minor at a Rocky sequel was the least of most people’s worries.
Theatre: Graumann’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, CA
Date: Oct., 2019
My job has afforded me many privileges, the most brag-worthy of which saw me attending the Hollywood premiere (and after-party) of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman at the storied Chinese Theater, with limos, Paparrazi, klieg lights and all.
The film was introduced by Martin Scorsese, who brought along his friends Joe Pesci, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, and Ray Romano because that’s how he rolls. Unfortunately, the film started over an hour late, and having been awake at that point for 26 hours, jet lagged, and stunned by the spectacle of it all, I must admit I fell asleep more than once during its 3 hour 21 minute runtime. Don’t worry, I watched the film uninterrupted at home. Thanks, Netflix.
The Big Lebowski**
Theatre: Bytowne Cinema, Ottawa, ON
Date: Sept., 2010
Everyone knows that I would throw my husband of 20 years in front of traffic to get to Mr. Jeffrey Leon Bridges. My husband fully understands and accepts this because we’re talking about The Dude, here. I didn’t see this film during its original theatrical run. Like most people, I saw it when it came out on video in 1999. Then I watched it again. And again. And again.
Every Friday night for 13 years I would play The Big Lebowski at the video store. Customers would often come in just to watch and mimic their favourite scenes or to marvel at the actual costumes which hung on the wall – the Dude’s sweater, Walter’s cargo shorts and flak jacket, Jesus’ teal jumpsuit. My boss had somehow ended up in possession of them all.The Bytown held a screening in 2010 and a group of friends, and video store customers who had become friends and I took up a healthy chunk of the balcony and settled in.
Seeing one of my most-loved films on the big screen with some of my favourite people tops this list. Yes, even more than the rush of a big Hollywood movie premiere. Sorry, Marty.